The Deck of Dread
The Deck of Dread sounds more like an item you would expect to find in a chest of loot in Dungeons and Dragons or World of Warcraft than something related to the business world. What the Deck of Dread is not, however, is what's left over after all the good cards have been removed from a couple Decks of Many Things and merged the leavings together. No, the Deck of Dread is the slide deck that was hastily thrown together for a presentation; it's the PowerPoint show that was assembled as if it were to be the focus of the entire presentation. The Deck of Dread is the career mistake you may not realize you're making.
If you attended a college in the US, you were likely forced to take a public speaking course. They’ll tell you to know your audience, know your purpose, and grab attention from the start. In this, public speaking is a lot like writing. You tailor your approach to what you’re doing and who you’re doing it with. So far so good, right?
Giving a presentation in front of C-Level Executives or project sponsors require mastery of these techniques. It also frequently requires a slide show to be presented so that your statements of facts and figures can have a visual cue for the audience to follow along. The trick is that this slide show is to be a compliment to your speaking, not the focus of it. As with any form of public speaking, the key is the speaker; everything else is window dressing.
Extemporaneous Speaking provides a great method for our daily job life presentations. In this method of speaking, you create a keyword outline of the topic to be presented and use those keywords to prompt your speaking. This gives you the ability to seem more knowledgeable about your topic as your speech will rarely be the same every time you give it but will still hit on the same highlights and important information. This is your chance to show that you can talk about the subject without having to memorize everything word for word. Being able to talk about a subject off-the-cuff inspires confidence in your leadership.
Creating Impact in 5…4…3…
Extempore speaking also allows us to avoid the Deck of Dread. Here’s how.
1. Create your keyword outline.
2. Record yourself giving delivery of your speech using the keyword outline.
3. Listen to the recording and make notes on the outline. Do you need to pause here? Maybe you should expound on this keyword with some more details?
4. Revise your outline, and repeat steps 2-3 again. How’s the timing? Repeat as necessary.
5. Create your slideshow based on the final outline.
Step 5 is crucial to your success and avoiding the Deck of Dread. A PowerPoint Presentation should highlight what you’re saying; it should not be the focus. It should offer a visual aid, not detail the entire speech. Remember, you’re not writing a blog post or an email. The presentation doesn’t say everything for you.
There are a few common pitfalls you’ll want to avoid when you craft your slides as well.
- Choose a Sans-Serif font. They’re easier to read on screens. If you’re using PowerPoint, the default Calibri font qualifies.
- Create a consistent theme for your slides. Don’t change backgrounds. Do keep with the same fonts.
- Avoid Clip Art. Really, we’ve all seen it by now. It’s not that interesting.
- Minimize your animation effects. They can just look cheesy if not handled well.
- Use light colors on dark backgrounds, or dark colors on light backgrounds to create an easy-to-read contrast. Avoid colors that blend together. Do not use red and green as these are common colors that cause issues for the color blind audience.
I highly recommend that your slide show end with a very final looking slide. You don’t need to have a giant, “THE END” in the middle of a slide, but you should have something that visually indicates to your audience, and to yourself, that this is the end of the slide show. However, it shouldn’t be the actual end!
By now, you’ve boiled your presentation down to the high-level details you needed to convey. But as a good leader, you’ve also taken the time to think about some additional questions that your presentation might prompt. Use the final slide as a divider between the actual presentation and whatever you need to answer the questions you anticipate. Have 4-6 more slides ready with additional details based on the anticipated question. Your execs will love you for being ready if it’s needed. And if they don’t ask questions? Then you don’t have to go into them.
Be the Hero
Remember, if you want to get ahead in your career you’ll need to master giving presentations. These events are as much about you as they are about data you’re presenting. Leave your audience remembering how confident, how engaging, and how prepared you were. Don’t leave them thinking about your font choices or art decisions. If they feel you’re confident, they’ll be more likely to go with your recommendations.